Peter Gabriel hid I/O, his first album in 21 years, in plain sight. Over the course of 2023, he released every one of its 12 songs as a single, each in two separate mixes (one “Bright,” one “Dark”), and then toured the record – all before its December release. A steady drip of singles didn’t build anticipation for I/O – many of the tracks didn’t attract much chatter – so much as get his audience accustomed to listening to new Peter Gabriel music again, allowing them to focus on a song at a time instead of immediately immersing themselves in an album that has its own intricate clockwork. Gabriel took his time crafting I/O, so listening to it slowly and steadily lets the record unfold and lets the distance between the decades narrow.
In many ways, I/O picks up where Up ended, sounding a bit like a relic from the height of the CD era when albums were crafted as a long, continuous experience showcasing the outer limits of high-end audio. It also follows a recognizable template, balancing its innate moodiness with a few sprightly numbers that relieve the tension – a blueprint that’s been in place since So. The familiar approach helps illuminate how I/O does mark an emotional progression, finding Gabriel curiously optimistic as he searches for new beginnings, discovering glimmers of hope within the darkness. This shift isn’t merely evident in the “Bright Side” mix, either.
There’s an inherent openness to the songs Gabriel completed for I/O, a spirit evident in such titles as “Road to Joy,” “Love Can Heal,” “This Is Home,” and “Live and Let Live.” Some of these songs surge, some simmer, but they all return to an idea essayed on the title track: “stuff coming out, stuff going in/I’m just a part of everything,” a worldview that’s intimate and all-encompassing. What makes I/O unique, even special, is that the process of searching isn’t central to the finished product. There’s no restlessness here, only acceptance, a quality that gives I/O a quiet power that can’t help but build over time.